An excerpt from the journal of Gene Cerney
As I opened my window, Monday morning brought with it the acrid city air of Deadwood like the clap of a hammer on an anvil. It filled my nose and other senses with a brutality that is fitting to this town. The energy here is every bit as frantic as Shady Gulch, but there is an anger about, as though too many hopes have been crushed and corrupted to bitterness. I admit, even my own enthusiasm for my task is tempered of late. Maybe it is this place, sucking the life out of its occupants until they are but shells of their former selves, scraggled, hollow, and pale with the waking affliction of harsh reality. Even the trees surrounding this place that inspired its moniker seem to reflect that terrible state. I will be glad to leave this city.
I set upon my day with a plodding purpose despite the recent inadequacies of my efforts. I met Ms. Blackstone on my way out in the middle of a light breakfast. I spared a few moments to converse with her. In the process, I noticed she was reading from a small book. A quick, stolen glance revealed a single word from the book. I did not recognize the origin, but I am curious to look it up. I could only estimate that, by appearance, it may have some root in a Germanic language.
Ms. Blackstone remains largely a puzzle. I still find myself wondering over her sudden appearance on the prairie, and her motivations, but I admit, our unified interest in this joint telegraph project does grant me solace. She suggested we get a healthy start on arranging meetings today with the town council members. I expressed to her that I had some personal business to attend to, the subject of which, dear reader, I shall not convey to your delicate mind. However, I invited her to accompany me to the bank at eleven o’clock to meet with Mr. Ephram Potts.
The eleven o’clock meeting went as to be expected, I suppose, considering the nature of Mr. Potts. He balked at the financial commitment I requested of Deadwood and insisted upon adherence to propriety and decorum. He all but demanded we speak to the telegraph office and the mayor before he would commit to any detail. That being said, he did not seem adverse to the idea, simply concerned regarding the financial impact to bank funds. He even offered to arrange for a council meeting in the middle of the week. Perhaps it was the influence of his daughter’s presence in his office that softened his demeanor.
The presence of his child in a professional setting was a decided oddity in Mr. Potts behavior. And it was not the only one. Throughout the conversation, Mr. Potts favored his left side heavily to hide the bruise on the right from Ms. Blackstone. He only ever turned his face to her when he set to slobbering over her hand. I admit that even I found the act uncomfortable. I was impressed Ms. Blackstone was able to stomach the attention.
I was impressed again at the young lady’s self-control upon our visit to the telegraph office. Ms. Blackstone, judging by her accent, is of a descent belonging to the British Isles. The telegraph officer and professed business owner, one Mr. Henry Westall Ph.D., prefers to be perceived with such a heritage. However, his accent sounds falsified, as evidenced by the cringe on Ms. Blackstone’s features as the man culturally mispronounced the name of the river running through London. I gathered by her tension and cool demeanor, that Mr. Westall, who I very much doubt has his doctorate from Yale as alluded, made a number of mistakes in his self-imagining.
Mr. Westhall conveyed a thick sense of self-importance. We adopted the tactic of stroking his ego to further our project. He desires a 3% cut of our telegraph business to match what he gets from Kang. I cannot imagine this man gets anything from Kang. Few people do unless it comes with a cost. Rather, I believe he is probably looking for a way to make back his own costs with interest as they relate to bribes paid the celestial railroad baron. Mr. Westhall also wants to be the hub location for the telegraph line. That part of his argument only makes sense as Deadwood is the larger and influential location with established connections to other towns. Still, I found myself ill when I considered passing information through this man. He attested to be a friend to Kang and capable of negotiating our interests with the Celestials. I am quite sure there is an unspoken price for his enthusiasm and assistance. Any message going through Deadwood, surely goes through Kang.
When it came time for our departure, I could see Ms. Blackstone was anxious to go. The existence of Mr. Westhall appeared to irritate her and try her patience. I endeavored to support her through the trial only to feel a familiar flavor of repugnance as he bid Ms. Blackstone good day.
We reconvened at the hotel for luncheon and met with the rest of our companions. Ms. Frost, the local schoolteacher, supplied information regarding the health of Mr. Potts daughter, Sofia, who had expressed to her a certain childlike fear. As I understand it, the child suffered some recent harm. Ms. Frost is concerned after holding classes this morning that another one of her students is in similar danger. She said a child, Josiah, came to her upset over being called a liar by his father. His father accused the child of stealing a pocket watch and the child claimed innocence. Ms. Frost wanted to mobilize our group of companions to keep watch over the houses of the children, Josiah and Sofia, based on the concept that she believed the child was not responsible for the theft and that some external force who was targeting Deadwood children was to blame. After having attacked Sofia, the assailant now set his sights on Josiah.
Ms. Blackstone, while expressing concern for the safety of the children, questioned the motivation of the schoolteacher. She purposed involving the local Sheriff, Mr. Seth Bullock. Involvement of the authorities made Ms. Frost hesitate. She expressed a desire to curb local panic and keep the situation quiet because of supposed supernatural involvement. I have not been sold on the idea of anything supernatural occurring. Sofia Potts showed signs of physical and mental abuse. She displayed no signs of ill effects of any recent injury when I saw her at the earlier meeting with her father, Mr. Potts. And Mr. Potts, for all intents and purposes, appeared a doting father. But captors and abusers have long developed misguided feelings towards their victims. And a victim of a child, one’s own daughter no less, would be far less likely to understand or admit the full weight of injuries done.
If Ms. Frost is concerned for the safety of another child, it could be that she is simply trying to expose the crimes of a local child abuser. I expressed to Ms. Blackstone that Ms. Frost is a reporter and it was possible she was on the trail of a juicy story. I also suggested that Sheriff Bullock was in possession of a great many responsibilities and provided with a limited staff. He would not likely spare any time or resources for the care of a child who is upset over being accused of lying by his father. Cyrus, intrigued by the potential of supernatural involvement suggested that Sofia was now likely to be under close guard by her father and that watching her house would unnecessarily divide our resources. I added that predators habitually attack the weak. If this was an external individual, and not the work of Mr. Potts, then the aggressor would likely move on to Josiah. We agreed to see to the matter this evening. Ms. Frost sought me out after the table discussion and expressed some sympathy for my position, though she held true to her convictions.
I approved the requests of my retinue to go about their own personal business today. I would be accompanied by Ms. Blackstone and quite unlikely to be the recipient of some untoward attack. Cyrus returned to his room to meditate on the word of the Lord, whatever that means. I suspect he means to further his own delusion of being a demon-slaying warrior of God by stretching whatever passages of the Bible best fit his means. Joseph and Mr. Clockwork did not tell me what they intended. I presumed that to be a bad sign. I may have made a few derogatory comments regarding their commitment and competency, or lack thereof, as a bodyguard retinue. But I will spare you the details. I will say this. Mr. Clockwork later requested leave to take a train and cash in a bounty. He also requested the companionship of Justice. I expressed that I would neither fund his adventure nor credit him this day of pay for keeping me safe. If he desired Justice’s companionship, he could relay to him the same terms. Yes reader, I am well protected.
Ms. Blackstone and I returned to our schedule of meetings and sought out the company of Jack Langrishe, a council member and proprietor of local entertainment venues. We entered the theater in the middle of the day and, I must comment, it was far better appointed than I have seen anywhere outside of a major metropolitan city. There was a certain finish to the craftsmanship that I found impressive. It looked the part of a venue capable of transporting the audience into the imaginings of the actors onstage.
And we were not the only ones appreciating it. A glance to the balcony revealed a figure in the balcony. I alerted Ms. Blackstone to the added presence and we went upstairs to investigate. To my surprise, the man was of native origin. Sitting beside him, I quickly learned that his name was Charlie Bull, the same man Wovoka asked us contact. He was surprised to learn we were a part of the group who helped the native chieftain and was quite thankful. He claimed the Ghost Dancers were growing in number and that he had faith Wovoka would gather the braves necessary to perform a successful Ghost Dance. Charlie expressed a concern over an opposing faction, the Ravenites, being present in Deadwood. He claimed that his informant, a man named Blount, had gone missing after observing Ravenites meeting secretly with Kang’s men. He asked us if we’d be willing to help him. Though I find this business of a spirit dance halting the flow of white influence in the West and banishing the strange elements of this world to be naive, I conceded that a missing man was cause for concern and, if we could help, we would. I hope having some positive standing with the natives will bring some added benefit, perhaps even agreement for the telegraph.
Charlie Bull confessed to being in some trouble with Jack Langriche. He had accrued some gambling debt and failed to pay his way into a performance or two. We offered to pay off his debt of $35 if he would make a favorable introduction of us to Mr. Langriche. He tried to pull a swindle on us and I could immediately see how Charlie Bull had gotten into trouble. After a little negotiating, Charlie made the introductions and Ms. Blackstone accompanied me to meet Mr. Langriche.
He is a handsome fellow, though some of that was the makeup he wore. An actor’s habit, or an overt consciousness of age, I cannot say. Once we gave Mr. Langriche the background of our motivation and enticed him with the possibility of expanding stage culture to Shady Gulch, he proclaimed we could count on his full support. I’ve never known an actor who could turn down the opportunity to make money putting on a show. I didn’t even need to try and sell him on the romantic idea of taking a troupe across the plains braving danger and ill fortune in order to put on some heartfelt performance to win an audience’s hearts. Thankfully, Mr. Langriche seems to be a fellow fully obsessed with the importance of his craft, no matter the circumstances. It saved me the trouble and cost of trying to impress him overmuch.
But not every encounter was so simple. We also met the mayor today. E.B. Farnum was not willing to listen to any kind of a proposal without proof that it could be worth his time. I bought a pickax. It was a very expensive pickax. But that purchase did at least open him up to a casual discussion. It is hard for me to speak to the effect of that discussion, reader, because I was not a part of it. Mayor Farnum focused solely on Ms. Blackstone. Charmed by her delicate appearance and foreign mystery, Farnum engaged Ms. Blackstone in appropriating fashion while declaring himself a very busy and important man. Ms. Blackstone assured him she understood and that our venture did not require anything of him personally but his attention and good will.
I admit, a part of me felt slighted by the exclusion, but there was also relief in being out of the Mayor’s vision. I am sure that the moment we left his attendance, he made a direct line to Al Swearengen, a man of dubious reputation who holds sway over much of Deadwood. I admit that, even before writing this entry, dear reader, I took great care to secure my belongings. I suspect a visit from some of Swearengen’s men, upon hearing of my entrepreneurial spirit and funding, would not be out of the ordinary.
I agreed to perform a little research for Ms. Frost and so I go now to work on that project until nightfall, at which time, I shall join my companions for an evening stroll.